It started the scoring in a four-run seventh inning as the Yankees took control of what was only a 2-1 game when starter Gio Gonzalez left with a man on first.
Gonzalez struggled early, needing 63 pitches to get through the first three innings. New York scored two in the third, but once that inning ended with Alex Rodriguez caught in a rundown between second and third on Nick Swisher's RBI single, Gonzalez settled down. He retired the side in order the next three innings, but Andruw Jones led off the seventh with a single to bring on Lidge.
Lidge walked the first batter he faced, though, and the Yankees took advantage.
"Walking [Russell] Martin, that kind of put us in a hole which we couldn't come out of," said manager Davey Johnson.
Second baseman Jayson Nix followed with a sacrifice bunt, and Lidge intentionally walked pinch-hitter Robinson Cano to load the bases for Jeter. Jeter ran the count full before sending Lidge's fastball bouncing between Zimmerman and Desmond.
"As many times as I made that play this year, I felt good about it," said Desmond, who was charged with a throwing error to advance Jeter to second. "It just came out a little low. Another foot and you got him. That's just the way it went tonight."
Two runs scored on the play, Lidge's night ended, and Curtis Granderson followed with a two-run double off Michael Gonzalez. A ninth-inning Granderson homer only added to the box score, as the Nationals never truly threatened after the third.
"We were a little fortunate there, but that's what good pitching allows you to do," Jeter said. "It keeps us in the game."
Washington responded immediately to New York's two-run third inning with a leadoff single from Steve Lombardozzi. Bryce Harper followed with an infield single, and Michael Morse drove in a run with a bases-loaded single up the middle.
They were still loaded for Ian Desmond with one out, but he swung at the first Phil Hughes offering -- a 79-mph curveball -- and sent it bouncing to Jeter to start a double play.
"I feel like I hit curveballs pretty well," Desmond said. "I just caught it a little bit in front."
Only Desmond reached base against Hughes after that, and no Nationals baserunner made it past first base until Morse led off the ninth with a double and scored a run that mattered little in what was by then a six-run game.
Hughes moved through the Washington lineup with ease, ending every inning except the third with a strikeout. He struck out nine in six innings.
"When you throw 94, 95 and can put it wherever you want, it's tough," Zimmerman said. "[Hughes] did a good job of that."
Gio Gonzalez matched him for six innings, delivering one of his stronger outings against a team he struggled with in five starts as a member of the Oakland A's. The left-hander struck out eight Yankees, but dropped his record to 1-5 against New York.
He felt strong enough to keep pitching in the seventh, but Johnson said he would go batter by batter with his starter. Then the first batter singled. Lidge thought he could escape it when the ball came off Jeter's bat, but that only started the inning.
"Actually, when I look back at it now, it's kind of frustrating because all of a sudden you're out of the game and it's like, 'What just happened?'" Lidge said. "I think Martin had a good at-bat, and after that, the inning just went."